Quick Fix for Precise Positions: A family of new tools helps solutions providers leverage positioning technologies to create customized, high-value solutions
September 26th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
The strategy of vertical segmentation continues to play a key role in the geospatial arena. Often referred to as “verticalization,” the vertical approach enables GIS users and solutions providers to focus on specific markets and applications. By leveraging geospatial technologies and software to create specialized solutions, developers can optimize fit to task and help users achieve high levels of value and productivity. The vertical approach also provides opportunities to develop new business and clients in applications where spatial information can improve decision processes and efficiency.
We can illustrate the vertical approach by looking at how utility companies use geospatial information. Utilities need specialized solutions to gather, analyze and share position and attribute data while meeting required levels of precision and detail. For example, electric and water utilities use GIS to locate and manage assets. In times of service outages, they can combine the GIS data with customer reports to pinpoint the location and cause of the trouble. These applications seem similar, but marked differences exist in the workflows and data. Electric crews can use meter-level data to locate poles, but water technicians may need centimeter precision to find valves in flooded streets. Creating solutions for the two segments involves leveraging the similarities while providing tools tailored to the different needs.
Although verticalization opens the door to using spatial information in a broad range of industries and disciplines, meeting a large number of specialized needs can tax the capabilities of manufacturers and software houses. This issue can be solved by using tools that enable users, service providers and independent developers to create new vertical solutions.
Blending Workflows with Technology
Customized geospatial solutions typically blend positioning technologies with software to produce highly tailored and streamlined workflows. Solutions may also involve additional sensors, inputs from external databases and communications to rapidly share information. In addition, various applications require different levels of positioning precision and accuracy. Forestry and wetlands users can work with precision of a few meters, while utilities, cadasters and asset managers benefit from precision at sub-meter or better.
Many vertical developers offer applications running on popular devices such as Android or iOS smartphones. However, accuracy requirements often exceed the capability of off-the-shelf positioning tools, especially consumer devices. While a smartphone provides a convenient platform, its positioning capabilities are limited. Even dedicated personal GPS navigators can deliver accuracy only down to one to three meters.
To achieve higher levels of precision and accuracy while ensuring reliable performance, developers must turn to specialized positioning hardware or configurations. This may include high-precision real-time GNSS or optical measurement. These technologies work well, but few organizations have the expertise to build and integrate both the hardware and software components.
This situation presents an opportunity to providers with the domain knowledge to bring a solution into the market. These providers don’t want to create positioning technologies. Rather, they want to embrace the technologies and use them as the basis for new solutions in their areas of expertise. To support this, the Trimble Partners Program provides tools and guidance to third parties looking to incorporate positioning and data transfer into their vertical market applications.
Tools for third-party developers include software development kits (SDK) and application programming interfaces (API) that enable developers to integrate Trimble positioning technologies into their systems and applications. One of Trimble’s solutions is the cross-platform GNSS Direct API. It enables developers to embed the control and configuration of Trimble R1 or R2 GNSS receivers to produce positioning with up to decimeter precision. Developers who need even higher precision can use the Trimble Precision SDK, which provides interfaces to survey-grade GNSS receivers and optical total stations.
With the API handling interaction with the GNSS receiver to produce positions of needed accuracy and coordinate systems, applications developers can focus on workflows or specialized needs. For example, Esri has integrated the GNSS Direct API into their Collector application, which runs on multiple platforms and operating systems.
Flexible and Rapid Development
The partnering approach provides three important benefits for applications developers. First, it enables developers to leverage advanced technologies in their solutions without the need to master the systems and processes used to produce accurate positioning. Developers use the API to manage the sensors to provide positions at required levels of accuracy and confidence. Second, as instrument manufacturers implement new sensors and functionalities, they also update SDKs and APIs to enable third-party developers to quickly access the new capabilities.
The third benefit for developers comes from reduced time to market. Because the APIs and SDKs are often used as part of a manufacturer’s own products, they undergo rigorous testing and documentation. As a result, third-party developers enjoy reduced workloads in development and testing of the positioning component of their solutions.
Customized solutions are an effective way for developers to grow their businesses. The partner approach of tools and support is opening doors for an expanding variety of applications. Innovative developers can benefit from leveraging positioning technologies as a foundation for GIS data acquisition and workflows. The efforts to customize and extend the function of a solution will pay off by enabling solutions providers to address new niches and customer segments.
Expanding the Data Stream: A skillful blend of people and technology can provide valuable data for GIS
August 12th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
GIS is an essential component in many decision and management processes. A well-structured GIS provides invaluable tools to visualize, analyze and query geospatial data and associated information about features and objects in both the natural and built environments. Because a GIS database can contain information on a wide variety of features and terrain, it is commonly built and maintained using information produced by a broad range of input and data sources.
As applications for GIS data expand, so does the demand for new and efficient ways to collect and deliver quality, actionable spatial data from the field. Satisfying the seemingly insatiable demand for data doesn’t always involve traditional GIS field technicians. Certain types of geospatial data can be produced by the general public. And in some cases, data collection doesn’t involve humans at all.
The Triple Play of Data Collection
Today’s widely available options for connectivity and Internet-based communications are enabling new approaches to collecting and using GIS information. We can divide the techniques into three broad classifications: crew sourced, crowd sourced and automated acquisition.
Beyond the Field: GIS data is more than positions and attributes. Here’s how the additional information can work for you.
June 27th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
When most people think of GIS, they think of maps, and rightfully so. For decades, typical consumers of spatial data were cities, municipalities and other organizations that used GIS to manage and visualize information about assets and environments. This is continuing, of course, as the use of geospatial information moves into new private, commercial and industrial segments. However, as GIS data flows from the field to end users, opportunities exist to develop information that goes well beyond the traditional positions and attributes.
Tall Opportunity: Flexible technologies and vertical strategies are opening new doors for geographic information
June 1st, 2016 by Ron Bisio
GIS taps into an essential human characteristic: We are visual beings. By providing the ability to show many kinds of data on one map, GIS enables people to visualize and analyze patterns, trends and relationships. It’s transforming the way companies and governments manage assets and activities.
As geospatial professionals, we are familiar with the basic aspects of GIS such as collecting and sharing spatial information. Regardless of how it will be used, data gathering and processing for GIS applications is built around core technologies for positioning and data management. GIS leverages these common characteristics to address an extensive array of needs for information and workflows. More than any other facet of the geospatial industry, GIS faces a wide—and demanding—variety of applications and opportunities.
April 27th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
Like many catch phrases, the concept of “Big Data” comes with multiple definitions. From the GIS viewpoint, big data describes data sets that are so large—both in volume and complexity—that they require advanced tools and skills for management, processing and analysis. Such huge data sets can be a lot of work, but the extra effort pays off substantially. Geospatial big data provides detail and contextual information that provides immediate and long-term value across multiple disciplines and applications.
Geospatial big data can include information from an assortment of sensors and data collection methods. Points and features with their associated attributes can be gathered using handheld or survey-grade GNSS, dedicated field computers or even smartphones. These data sets are small compared to other techniques, but they provide very high levels of precision and detail and can be updated rapidly. Mobile mapping systems combine lidar, imaging, GNSS and other sensors to capture large quantities of 3D information. The data is then fused to develop comprehensive models and databases. Data collected from airborne and satellite platforms range from imagery and lidar to multi-spectral remote sensing.
March 14th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
You may already own a big part of the future of GIS—your smartphone. Here’s how it can transform the way you work.
It’s no secret that geographic information systems have big appetites for data. The demand isn’t slowing. Industry segments including government, utilities, transportation, energy and their mobile workforces are discovering the value of spatial information to managing resources and activities. The trend has produced growing demands for tools to manage and use geospatial data.
In addition to gathering data to create new databases and GIS layers, significant resources are devoted to maintaining spatial data. Once a GIS is populated, its information must be continually refreshed as growth and change affects natural and built environments. Incomplete or out-of-date data can reduce confidence in the accuracy of the GIS, potentially drawing down the value of the information and services it provides. It’s a risk that GIS professionals can’t afford to take.
UAS Takes Off in GIS: Modern approaches to airborne imaging provide flexibility and efficiency in GIS data acquisition
February 11th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
Aerial imagery has long been a staple of GIS. By providing viewpoints from high above the ground, aerial images enable people to understand the geographic context of individual features. Orthoimages developed from aerial photographs routinely serve as background maps of terrestrial data for numerous GIS applications. GIS analysts use photogrammetry to develop terrain models and measure specific objects or features. Airborne remote sensing using infrared wavelengths supports GIS in the study of vegetation and thermal characteristics of natural or built objects.
When combined with other data in a GIS, aerial imagery supports a more complete, accurate analysis of a scene. As an example, forest managers can identify areas where homes and buildings are close to overgrown or unhealthy forests that are susceptible to wildfires. The foresters can work with local agencies and property owners to mitigate fire risk and develop emergency plans.
To obtain aerial imagery, GIS professionals can turn either to third-party service providers or in-house resources. Most commercial aerial imagery is captured using manned aircraft equipped with sophisticated cameras or lidar, depending on the type of application and imagery needed for a project. Manned aircraft are typically operated by service providers and offer important benefits such as the ability to cover large areas and fly at high altitudes as well as capture very-high resolution images with advanced, large-format sensors. The results are excellent, but come with tradeoffs. Costs for manned aircraft can be high, and jam-packed flight schedules or changing weather conditions can introduce risk to expected lead time for collection and processing of aerial images.
Producing Value Through Partners: As opportunities expand for GIS technologies, some solution providers are taking a team approach to innovation.
January 19th, 2016 by Ron Bisio
The use of spatial information is growing rapidly in both the consumer and professional arenas. The growth, with its voracious appetite for data, is moving the geospatial industry into new application domains. These domains have significant variations in the type and precision of data needed, the environments where it is collected and the workflows of the people collecting it. A forester, archaeologist, environmental engineer and wetlands biologist all gather GIS data (features, attributes, positions, etc.), but to significantly different ends. In many disciplines, an object’s location is a minor component among many attributes that are needed.
The increase in data volume and types has had a profound impact on the geospatial industry. Geospatial manufacturers historically emphasized their positioning technologies. Position sensors are still needed of course, but they are not the entire solution. Today’s GIS solutions must speak the language of the users, making it fast and efficient to capture the pertinent data while presenting information and instructions in familiar terms.